President Bush is in Africa this week, sulking
because he didn�t get his way. In one of the rare times of the past seven
years, the House of Representatives, now under Democratic control for the first
time in 12 years, defended the Constitution and refused to allow the president
to bully it with a program of fear mongering. He really tried, though.
In a Feb. 15 speech, the president, angry at yet another delay in voting
on the Protect America Act, harrumphed, �[B]y blocking this
piece of legislation our country is more in danger of an attack. . . . [T]he
House leaders must understand that the decision they made to block good
legislation has made it harder for us to protect you, the American people.� Not through with
his saber-rattling, the president declared that not only would he veto an
extension he would cancel a scheduled visit to five African nations and, maybe
for all we know, hold his breath until the House acquiesced to his will.
In August, Congress had passed the Protect America Act,designed as
a six-month temporary �fix� to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
of 1978. The modified act would have further strangled Americans� civil
liberties by reducing judicial oversight and by removing the provision from
FISA that for federal law enforcement to obtain a court warrant for
surveillance, it needed to show probable cause that the target is a �foreign power� or an �agent of a foreign power.�
However, the most controversial part of the Protect
America Act was that it gave immunity to telecommunications companies that had
willingly acceded to government requests to illegally and secretly monitor the
phone conversations of millions of American citizens. If the 40 lawsuits
currently on file were to proceed, significant information about the
government�s illegal and unconstitutional actions the past six years would be
With several provisions still under discussion, the House leadership
agreed to a 15-day extension, and then proposed another 21-day extension.
That�s when George W. Bush got really angry and played the only card he had in
his hand, the fear card. It worked innumerable times before; he�d just trump
those other silly useless cards, like the civil liberties card. This time, the
president�s threats didn�t work. The House was firm that because of a refusal
by the administration to budge on any part of the Protect America Act, more
time was needed to try to reach compromises that would still protect Americans,
yet not continue to tear at the Constitution. George W. Bush put what was left
of his tail between his legs, didn�t veto anything and did go to Africa.
Even if the House didn�t fall over, as it had so many times before,
Americans had nothing to worry about any loss of protection against terrorism.
In August, Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security,
said that even if the law expired in February, �intelligence officials would
still be able to continue eavesdropping on already approved targets� for six
President Bush, who several times had threatened Congress to rush the
Protect America Act into law, �is attempting to rattle Congress into hastily
expanding his own executive powers at the expense of civil liberties and
constitutional protections,� Richard Clark wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia
Inquirer. Clarke had been
assistant secretary of state for intelligence for Ronald Reagan, special
intelligence and security advisor to George H.W. Bush, and chief
counterterrorism advisor to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
During the past seven years, the Bush�Cheney administration has shoved
fear into Americans� hearts as a replacement for the Constitution. This
administration rushed a willing Congress into passing the USAPATRIOT Act, which
cuts into several Constitutional protections, and then led Congress to vote to
extend or delete most of the provisions of the sunset clause, which would have
terminated 16 of the most odious, and unconstitutional, parts of the act.
The Bush�Cheney administration got a fawning and mentally-limp Congress
to pass the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allows the federal
government to hold �any person,� foreign as well as citizen, who does not show
�an allegiance or duty to the United States,� or who speaks out against the
government�s policies, to be tried by military tribunal. The act further
provides for the suspension of the right of habeas corpus, thus condemning individuals to years
of imprisonment without knowing the charges and without seeing any evidence.
The law permits secret trials for both citizens and aliens. According to the
act�s provisions, �no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear
or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever� regarding anyone the
administration brought under its own jurisdiction, thus nullifying most of the
Bill of Rights.
The Military Commissions Act also disregards the Geneva Conventions and
international law for the humane treatment of prisoners, permits hearsay
evidence in trials, and the right of the government to impose the death
sentence on prisoners based upon the testimony of others who may have been
Apparently, President Bush hopes that the people of Benin, Ghana,
Liberia, Rwanda, and Tanzania will give him the standing ovations so few
Americans extend to him.
He isn�t visiting Darfur.Walter
Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is professor of mass communications at Bloomsburg
University. His latest book is "Sinking
the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush." You may contact Brasch through his website, www.walterbrasch.com.